Last week, as I mentioned, I was impressed by this Kipling parody, which I found in the conscientious objectors’ magazine, The Tribunal
Lord God of battles, whom we seek
On clouds and tempests throned afar,
When, tired of being tamely weak,
We maffick into deadly war.
If it should chance to be a sin,
At least enable us to win.
Give to the churches faith to pray
For what they know they shouldn’t ask,
And such abounding grace that they
May cheerfully perform the task,
Wave flags, and loyally discount
That fatal Sermon on the Mount.
Give to the people strength to be
Convinced all happens for the best,
To see the thing they wish to see,
And prudently ignore the rest;
So priest and people shall combine
To gain our ends and call them thine.
The poem dates from the Boer War, and seems to have had considerable currency among pacifists during the Great War. As well as the Tribunal, I have found it in The Merthyr Pioneer, probably the most strongly anti-consription Welsh newspaper . Both of these papers describe it as appearing in ‘an evening paper on November 29th, 1901’, which is how it is described when quoted in full in The Churches and Modern Thought, a book of 1911 by Philip Vivian, so this is probably their source.
The author, however, was G.F. Bradby (1863-1947), a Rugby shoolmaster, who was not only a poet, I discovered, but also a novelist. Amazon gives one a chance to ‘look inside’ a reprint of his 1913 novel, The Lanchester Tradition. I took a look, and was immediately entertained by its ironic tone, as it describes Chiltern, a not-very satisfactory great Public School at the start of the twentieth century. I got hold of a copy and whizzed through it in a day – it really is great fun.
The book tells about the (pretty well accidental) appointment of an idealistic new headmaster in a school where complacency rules. It is a book about teachers, not schoolboys, and some of the characters found in Bradby’s fictional common-room will be familiar to anyone who has taught in a school. The most egregious character is the senior housemaster, Mr Chowdler, ‘ the strong man of Chiltern’:
Mr Chowdler owed his reputation for strength, not to any breadth of view or depth of sympathetic insight, but to a sublime unconsciousness of his own limitations. narrow but concentrated, with an aggressive will and a brusque intolerance of all who differed from him, he was a fighter who lovedfighting for its own sake and who triumphed through the sheer exhaustion of his enemies; a Term in which he did not engage in at least one mortal combat was to him a blank Term.
It’s a short book, and one you can whizz through in a day, thoroughtly enjoying the skirmishes between the formidable Chowdler and the new Head. Highly recommended.
What I really want to know, however, is whether Bradby carried the anti-war sentiments he had expressed during the Boer War into the Great War. I think I’ve found a novel of his that deals with the War. I’ll report back when I’ve read it.
(And what I’d like to know even more is what Bradby would have made of today’s great public schools, packed with the coddled offspring of merchant bankers and Russian oligarchs. I suspect he’d find plenty of targets for his lively irony.)